History’s Shadow: German Art and the Formulation of National Identity

Max Klinger, German, 1857-1920
Der Künstler in der Dachstube (The Artist in the Attic)
Etching and aquating (on thin wove paper)
5-3/4" x 2-3/8"
Dr. and Mrs. E. William Ewers Gift for Fine Arts Fund Purchase

(March 13 – June 5, 2014)

An opening reception will be held Thursday, March 13, 2014 from 5 to 7 pm in Cohen Memorial Hall.

Presented as the first survey of German art from the Fine Arts Gallery’s collections, History’s Shadow: German Art and the Formulation of National Identity addresses the role of history in shaping German art and how that history has influenced the formulation of German identity. This exhibition will also address how we, in turn, view German art through a lens ground in our complex relationship with the German past, with World War II still coloring how many Americans and Germans alike view Germany, its culture, and its art.

While not a comprehensive survey of German art, History’s Shadow spans five hundred years, with particular attention given to political and cultural events and the way these events “cast a shadow” on both the artists and the art created by them. The earliest German work in the Fine Arts Gallery’s collection is the melancholic Rhenish Pietà, a late medieval work, ca. 1450–1460. Old Master prints are well represented beginning in the fifteenth century with works by artists such as Michael Wolgemut, Albrecht Dürer’s teacher, and Dürer himself. Several works by artists called the kleine Meister, or “Little Masters,” a group of German artists active in the first half of the sixteenth century who produced a wide range of small-scale, intricately worked prints, nearly all of which were engravings, are also featured. Artists from the period leading up to and immediately following World War I, such as Erich Heckel, Max Klinger, Conrad Felixmüller, and Käthe Kollwitz will be included, reflecting the impact of the war on Germany and its artists. Art of the late-twentieth and early twenty-first centuries is represented by Sigmar Polke, the conceptualist Thomas Locher, and an excerpt from Christiane Baumgartner’s 1 Sekunde, a meditation on time and contemporaneity.

History’s Shadow: German Art and the Formulation of National Identity is organized by the Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery and curated by Joseph S. Mella, director. This exhibition has been made possible by a generous gift from Leslie Cecil and Creighton Michael, MA ’76.